The best ways for runners to keep fit when they can’t run

If you love to run, there are a few things more frustrating than not being able to do just that. Hopefully, if you do find yourself on the sidelines due to injury or lacking an upcoming event in your race diary, it will only be for a short spell.

But if your running is on pause, this can become an ideal time to work on other aspects of your overall fitness. If you use this downtime wisely, you can be as fit – or in even better shape – when you return than you were before your temporary timeout.

In this article, Sarang Sawant, a certified fitness trainer and Digi Coach with Gold’s Gym, shares his tips on how you can maintain your fitness during your off-season or if you’re hampered by an injury. 

#1. Don’t diet!

Many runners who are out of action think that they need to go on extreme diets to make up for the calories they are no longer burning on their runs. They’re afraid of the extra weight they might gain. However, this can be detrimental to the entire recovery process. If you are injured, you need to eat nutritiously to help your body repair itself. 

According to Digi Coach Sarang Sawant, there are many different factors that affect your recovery time and your diet is one of the most important ones. He adds, “The food we eat forms the building blocks that we use for all biological processes. Certain ingredients can affect responses such as inflammation, promote tissue regeneration, and reduce muscular atrophy. All individuals are different, so you need to ensure that the meal plan you choose will address the specific trauma you suffered.”

 #2. Focus on eating healthily

Nutrition is key when it comes to helping your body heal so focus on what you eat. Ideally, you need to be consuming a variety of foods, including all food groups such as fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates like potatoes and bread, and proteins. Eat a range of colors to get in enough vitamins and antioxidants. Sawant lists his top choices for those who are limited due to an injury: 

Leafy green vegetables: These are packed with nutrients that decrease inflammation, enhance immune function, and improve wound healing, making them the perfect choice to promote recovery.

Eggs: Following surgery, your body needs significantly more protein than the current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight so make sure you eat rich sources such as eggs.

Berries: Berries provide ample Vitamin C, which promotes wound healing by stimulating the production of collagen — the most abundant protein in your body 

Nuts and seeds: These foods provide plant-based protein, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals that support healing. They are a good source of zinc, Vitamin E, manganese, and magnesium. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in your body, protecting against cellular damage.

#3. Mix it up

Sawant says, “Depending on the injury, there are activities runners can do to mimic running, strengthen the relevant muscles and help to speed up their recovery. Not all of these are for everyone, but I recommend you give them a try and find something that helps you keep your hard-earned fitness. Avoid HIIT and high-impact activities. Instead, change your routine for a while and include low-impact sports such as cycling or swimming.” Here are a few of his other recommendations:  

  • Pool running – it mimics running and doesn’t apply pressure on the injury

  • AlterG running – this is a gravity running machine

  • Walking and running – this can help you slowly get back. But make sure to include stretching as well

  • Stair walking – a great way to help build muscle 

#4. Be clever with food

When you’re covering lots of kilometers during marathon training, you might turn to simple carbohydrates – such as paratha, which is full of refined flour but provides a great energy boost to fuel a long run. But if you’re not running, when you choose a carbohydrate-heavy food, go for those containing whole grains such as chapati or brown rice. Whole grains will keep you feeling satisfied for longer periods, lowering the chances of you reaching out for high-sugar and fatty snacks. The fiber packed in also helps bowel health and the additional minerals and vitamins contribute to improving your overall health. Sawant also recommends focussing on more proteins such as eggs and nuts. “Include Omega-3 foods, fruit and high-fiber vegetables like sweet potato. Try to cut down on simple carbohydrates and eat complex carbs, especially before a workout.” 

#5. Water jog

It’s hard to replicate running, but water jogging is an excellent alternative. If you are injured, it is recommended that you get an aqua jogging belt (the type you may have seen at aqua aerobic classes) to use in the pool. These are great as they engage the same muscles used for normal running, giving you an excellent workout. Sawant says, “Water jogging can be a great option for the elderly and those who are injured. It’s great for people suffering from arthritis, diabetes and even heart patients.”

#6. Pump up the protein

Since you aren’t running as much, you don’t need as many carbohydrates to fuel up. Instead, eat more quality protein. Great choices can be eggs, chicken, lean meat and oily fish. For vegetarians, a rich source can be found in milk, eggs, soy, dahi and nuts. If you are a vegan, make sure you get your protein from a combination of sources such as soya milk, tofu, cheese and pulses such as dals and chickpeas. Protein isn’t as calorific as other food groups and can help speed up your recovery as it helps the body repair cells. 

#7. Fast and furious

Circuit training, a series of different exercises done for a short time each and followed by a quick recovery, is an excellent way to maintain your fitness levels when you cannot go for a run. Keep 15-20 minutes once or twice a week to do exercises at home or gym. You can include squats, lunges, press-ups, burpees and planks. Do each for 40-60 second bursts and rest for 20-30 seconds between each rep. You can repeat this ‘circuit’ multiple times. 

#8. Walk it back

“Boosting your blood flow, brisk walking can improve the health of your heart and lungs. It can also lower your risk for many health conditions and help you manage your weight. Moreover, brisk walking can improve your brain function, boost your energy, reduce stress, and improve your sleep. Many fitness experts consider a brisk walking pace to be 100 steps per minute,” says Sawant. If you’ve been out of action from running for quite a long time, starting off slow can really help. Brisk walking raises your heart rate and can keep your fitness levels in check and get your body prepared for more intense running later on when you are fully healed.  

#9. Bring me sunshine

Use this time to improve your mineral and nutrient levels. A simple blood test can reveal if you’re deficient in minerals such as iron and calcium, or vitamins. Many people don’t get enough Vitamin D, especially if they’re indoors a lot, and a lack of running outside under the sun could bring your levels down. You may just need a supplement to compensate.

#10. Stretch it out

Downtime from running is a great time to work on your mobility, which can help your overall form. However, you need to make sure you know what you are doing before you stretch it out. Sawant says, “Before you plunge into stretching, make sure you do it safely and effectively. While you can stretch anytime, anywhere, proper technique is key. Stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good. Research has shown that stretching can help improve flexibility, and, consequently, the range of motion of your joints.”  According to Sawant, improved flexibility may:

  • Improve your performance in physical activities

  • Decrease your risk of injuries

  • Help your joints move through their full range of motion

  • Enable your muscles to work most effectively

For runners, not being able to get out and about can be frustrating. However, you don’t have to put fitness on the back burner just because you aren’t able to run. Making your health a priority can help you heal faster as well as feel more positive and motivated for when you can finally run again. Injuries are unfortunate but they do happen. Getting timely medical care for serious ailments and accidents is crucial to getting better faster. That’s why good health insurance is so important. It can ensure that you have access to good medical care when the need arises without having to bear the brunt of huge hospital bills.